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Nordhausen v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

January 16, 2020


          Cole, J.


          Karen L. Litkovitz, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Erik D. Nordhausen, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs statement of errors (Doc. 9), the Commissioner's response in opposition (Doc. 10), and plaintiffs reply memorandum. (Doc. 11).

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed his application for DIB on July 30, 2015, alleging disability since January 1, 2014 due to delusions, obesity, excessive tiredness and sleepiness, short attention span and sustained focus difficulties, diabetic symptoms, hypertension, stiffness in his back and arm muscles, sleep apnea, gastric reflux, and difficulty with social interactions. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff, through counsel, requested and was granted a de novo hearing before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Thuy-Anh T. Nguyen. Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared and testified at the ALJ hearing on December 14, 2017. On May 23, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiffs DIB application. Plaintiffs request for review by the Appeals Council was denied, making the decision of ALJ Nguyen the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. Analysis

         A. Legal Framework for Disability Determinations

         To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must suffer from a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The impairment must render the claimant unable to engage in the work previously performed or in any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2).

         Regulations promulgated by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential evaluation process for disability determinations:

1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment - i.e., an impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities - the claimant is not disabled.
3) If the claimant has a severe impairments) that meets or equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled.
5) If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is disabled.

Robbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 404.1520(b)-(g)). The claimant has the burden of proof at the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process. Id.; Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 548 (6th Cir. 2004). Once the claimant establishes a prima facie case by showing an inability to perform the relevant previous employment, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other substantial gainful employment and that such employment exists in the national economy. Rubbers, 582 F.3d at 652; Harmon v. Apfel, 168 F.3d 289, 291 (6th Cir. 1999).

         B. The Administrative Law Judge's Findings

         The ALJ applied the sequential evaluation process and made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The [plaintiff] meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2020.
2. The [plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2014, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571, et seq.).
3. The [plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, degenerative changes of the lumbar spine, obesity, diabetes mellitus, and metabolic syndrome (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. The [plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the [ALJ] finds that the [plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity [("RFC")] to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and climbing of ramps and stairs, and never climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The [plaintiff] is capable of simple, routine tasks that do not require fast paced or high production standards. He can occasionally interact with supervisors and coworkers but cannot interact with the general public. He is limited to low stress jobs, defined as those with occasional decision-making and occasional changes in the work setting, with changes explained in advance. He will be off-task 5-10% of the workday.
6. The [plaintiff] is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).[1]
7. The [plaintiff] was born [in]. .. 1973 and was 40 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563).
8. The [plaintiff] has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the [plaintiff] is "not disabled," whether or not the [plaintiff] has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix II).
10. Considering the [plaintiff]'s age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the [plaintiff] can perform (20 CFR 404.1569 and 404.1569(a)).[2]
11. The [plaintiff] has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 1, 2014, through the date of ...

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